Wiccan, Atheist challenge Marion's Ten Commandments monument

Marion Ten Commandments Press Conference (2010-08-17): Sherman stands with Donelson and speaks to reporters.MARION, IL — Chicago-area activist Rob Sherman and Marion resident Robert Donelson were met by reporters and several dozen protesters earlier today at a press conference at Marion's Tower Square. This press conference was held in response to plans by the City of Marion to erect a Ten Commandments monument.

Marion resident Ken Kessler proposed the idea of a Ten Commandments monument to the Marion City Council at a meeting on Monday. This monument would be funded by private donors but located on city property at Tower Square in Marion. Sherman, an atheist activist from the Chicago area, spoke at Monday's Council meeting in opposition to the monument.

Marion Ten Commandments Press Conference (2010-08-17): Rob Sherman speaks to the news cameras.Sherman repeated his stance on the monument's legality at today's press conference, arguing that the City of Marion must either have no religious symbols on city property or open up the property for monuments by Marion residents of all faiths, including Wiccans such as Marion resident Robert Donelson.

Marion Ten Commandments Press Conference (2010-08-17): Robert Donelson, a resident of Marion, surrounded by protesters with signs listing the Ten Commandments.Donelson, a resident of Marion, said that he saw a news broadcast in which Sherman requested to hear from any Marion residents who oppose the monument. Donelson said that he contacted Sherman because he believes that Christians, Wiccans, and people of all faiths should have equal rights to make use of public spaces. If a Christian monument is placed on the square, Donelson argues, then a Wiccan one should also be permitted.

Marion Ten Commandments Press Conference (2010-08-17): Sherman and Donelson listen to the arguments of one of the most polite protesters. She was, however, quite insistent in her support of the monument.Two to three dozen spectators surrounded Sherman and Donelson during their public statements at Tower Square. Several of the spectators had no public statement or spoke in support of Donelson's case. Most, however, were vocal in their opposition to Donelson and Sherman's presence in Marion.

Marion Ten Commandments Press Conference (2010-08-17): Many protesters held yellow fliers listing the Ten Commandments.Many of the protesters held signs listing the Ten Commandments. Some were silent, but most engaged in heated debate with Sherman. Several of the protesters repeatedly shouting challenges and insults at Sherman and Donelson, sometimes to the point of interrupting reporters' attempts to interview the pair. Some protesters argued with Sherman about law and theology while others simply shouted insults, alternately calling either man an "infidel" or an "angel of darkness" who was trying to "corrupt [their] children." One of the most threatening comments came from an angry male protester who stated that a hundred years ago, these two men would have been "run out of town."

In an interview following the press conference, Sherman stressed that he is not opposed to the monument itself, but rather to the presence of one religion's monument while other religions are excluded. He argued that the City of Marion must choose between a town square with no religious symbols or provide a "religious festival" where Marion residents of all faiths may build monuments to celebrate their religious or philosophical beliefs. However, Sherman said that if the City of Marion chooses to erect a Christian monument without allowing Marion's Wiccans or Atheists to erect their own monuments, then he and Donelson will sue the City in order to stop the monument and seek damages for violating Donelson's civil rights.

You can view photos from this story in the Marion Ten Commandments press conference gallery.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this article is Wiccan. However, he has no personal connection to Robert Donelson or anyone else interviewed for this story.